Locals step up to help Haitians

Boston collects funds, resources for quake victims

Carline Charles was part of a collaborative earthquake relief effort for Haiti at Hibernian Hall in Boston yesterday. Carline Charles was part of a collaborative earthquake relief effort for Haiti at Hibernian Hall in Boston yesterday. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / January 17, 2010

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Driven by an urgent need to help the suffering people of Haiti, a cross-section of people, including union workers, college students, and family members of Haitians came out in droves yesterday to Boston centers set up to collect funds and resources for the devastated country.

At Hibernian Hall on Dudley Street, at least 2,000 people signed up to help the relief efforts.

At a resource center set up by the city in Dorchester, union workers and volunteers helped Haitians trying to contact relatives at home.

Marjorie Bernadeau said she received seven calls from her cousin in Haiti, begging her to send someone with water and food to their shantytown in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

“I feel helpless,’’ said the 36-year-old Roslindale woman. “There is nothing I can do.’’

Still, she said, she had to try something. So yesterday morning she came to Dorchester to call the International Committee of the Red Cross, hoping to get in touch with someone who could head to Cité Soleil, the neighborhood where her cousin and her two little girls live.

“People are just lying on the pavement,’’ Bernadeau said. “No one is coming with food or water.’’

At the Hibernian Hall, dozens of volunteers collected everything from underwear and shoes to purses and jackets for children, women, and men. They took donations for the American Red Cross and Partners in Health, which are raising money for the devastated country. They packed canned goods, toothpaste, and bottled water in cardboard boxes that would be sent to Haiti.

Staisha Stephens, a 22-year-old secretary from Dorchester, sat before a laptop in the hall. She was there to help anyone who wished to find information online about relatives in Haiti.

It was a small task, but it felt more meaningful than sending a donation via a text message, Stephens said.

“This is a hands-on way to be part of the relief effort,’’ she said.

By the end of the day, people had stopped by to offer some type of help and donate $16,685, according to organizers of the fund-raising event sponsored by dozens of organizations. Volunteers also packed, sorted, and labeled as many as 1,000 boxes of goods that will be sent to Haiti.

Janine Quarles, a community organizer with the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, said she was gratified, but not surprised to see so many young people at the event.

“A lot of young people . . . are really trying to be active in a lot of ways,’’ she said as she took registration forms filled with contact information. The goal, Quarles said, is to stay in touch with the people who came yesterday so they will stay involved in helping Haiti rebuild.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that this happened, but it has opened up a lot of people’s eyes,’’ Quarles said.

In Dorchester, at the resource center set up at the office of the Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, dozens of people came in to use the phones and computers. They scoured online chat rooms for information about their relatives. In an adjacent room, union members and volunteers, some dressed in clown costumes, watched over the children some brought along and laid out coffee, Danish twists, and cranberry scones.

Jean Carmel St-Juste, a Haitian interpreter from Malden, was helping Nelson and Steve Destin, a father and son who scoured Haitipal, a chat room, for any information about their relatives.

Steve Destin said they had not heard from his sister, Martine, and aunt, Eliana, who live in Carrefour, west of Port-au-Prince and where most buildings collapsed in the earthquake.

“Anybody heard from Eliana Destin?’’ St-Juste typed in Creole. “Anybody heard from Martine Destin?’’

Steven Destin, 42, of Hyde Park, said they had been there for two hours waiting for a response, but had seen nothing so far.

“I’m very hopeful,’’ he said, smiling widely.

St-Juste, whose family survived the earthquake, said he has been focusing on the good news coming out of Haiti. It is the best way to cope with the tragedy and stay focused on helping fellow Haitians, he said. “We are not talking about the dead,’’ St-Juste said. “We are talking about the people who have survived.’’

Meghan Irons of the Globe staff contributed to this report.